Politics: Mauritius Elections

Ramgoolam Wins Hearts, and Election

Ramgoolam: Back as Prime Minister

—Empire Bureau

Tale Of Two Nations

Kamala Persad-Bissessar Making History

Politically speaking, May turned out to be the best month in decades for the PIOs from the former sugar colonies. Before the elections at Trinidad and Tobago that ushered in a new lady Prime Minister of Indian origin (read cover story), it was Mauritius that blazed a trail of Indian political success. Navinchandra Ramgoolam, cardiologist by training, connected well with the hearts of people, and returned emphatically as Prime Minister following the May 6 elections. The ruling coalition—Alliance de l’Avenir (Alliance of the future)—had a resounding victory, winning 41 seats at the 70-member National Assembly.

Ramgoolam’s larger-than-life presence pushed the Paul Berenger-led opposition, l’Alliance du Coeur, into second position with 18 seats. On achieving victory, Ramgoolam, son of independent Mauritius’s first Prime Minister, Sir Seewosagur Ramgoolam, said he was dedicating the victory entirely to the people of his country. He quickly promised that his Government would continue to walk the path of reforms that had boosted investments in this picturesque Indian Ocean island nation.

INDIA EMPIRE has been tracking Ramgoolam’s career. By every account he remains a very popular man in India. He has established very close ties with his Indian counterpart, PM Manmohan Singh. He was chief guest at the annual Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in January 2008, and has set up a bust of his father in Patna, and promised to spend substantial sums for the development of his ancestral village. In fact, residents at Harigaon, a village in the Bhojpur district of Bihar, were overjoyed on hearing news of his win. Celebrations lasted long, and it was interesting to see how an Indian victory in another part of the world brought so much cheer to residents of a village in Bihar. It was from here that Ramgoolam’s grandfather Moheeth Ramgoolam had undertaken the journey into the unknown, and settled in Mauritius as an indentured worker, a crossing of the oceans that was to open up greater possibilities for future generations of his family.

Another man very popular in India, and in the Bhopuri belt (and recipient of the INDIA EMPIRE NRI Awards in January 2010 along with 15 others), Mookesswur Choone, also won. He quit his job as ambassador of Mauritius in India and contested the elections. He is now Minister for Art and Culture.

Ramgoolam, on his part, has pledged a more aggressive “democratization” of the economy, ensuring among other things that ownership of the vast sugarcane plantations that are currently controlled by the minority whites of French descent is also made accessible to other communities in Mauritius, a country of 1.3 million people composed mainly of Hindus. Creoles, Christians and Muslims also compromise larger sections of the demographic cohort than the Francos. A special “democratisation unit” has been formed in the Prime Minister’s office, and its workload is certain to be amplified.

Choonee: Riding the waves of popularity

Mr. Ramgoolam’s election victory has also brought relief to several business supporters who had been targeted by Mr. Berenger and his financial backers. They had been apprehensive that the Berenger group would subvert, if not entirely destroy, their commerce.

The 65-year-old Mr. Berenger appeared at a gathering of followers soon after his defeat and promised to continue “fighting the good fight”, and also to work toward national unity. He was gracious about the Prime Minister’s victory—a sentiment not necessarily appreciated by many in his audience—but asserted that the elections were neither free nor fair. Mr. Berenger chided the national television network for blatantly favouring the Prime Minister’s alliance in order to ensure its victory.

The Ramgoolam alliance’s victory, however, will most definitely be welcomed by India, not the least because Mauritius contributes $12 billion in foreign direct investment to India, by far the biggest annual FDI from any country. Mr. Berenger—a former Prime Minister himself—while publicly proclaiming his fidelity to an “umbilical relationship” with India, has been known to privately express a desire for strengthened commercial and political relations with France and other Western powers.

India’s Chief Election Commissioner Navin Chawla was in Mauritius at the invitation of the Government. He was not an official observer, of course, but other Indian representatives in Mauritius must feel emboldened now to suggest stronger technical, educational and computer-science links between both countries.

June 2010

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